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The Department of Justice recently filed 50 indictments involving the bribing of college-centered entities to assure students were admitted to certain universities. At the heart of the scandal were celebrities and top tier institutions like USC, Stanford and Yale.
This news has rocked the college admissions world. Independent college counselors and the schools themselves have been forced to re-evaluate their involvement and re-examine their practices. Many parents are doing the same thing.
There's already so much competition to get into college, and this kind of illegal behavior causes many parents to fret and fume more than they might already. Understandably they wonder: How many students were denied admission because these other students were pushed to the front of the line? Can my student receive a fair evaluation if others are paying to bypass the standard admission criteria?
Quite honestly, this type of “pay to play” has been going on for decades. Parents have donated substantial amounts of money to colleges to secure their student a place in an incoming class. Buildings go up, foundations are established. The only difference is these are considered acceptable practices.
I suggest we acknowledge, for now, that aspects of the college admissions process will continue to be mysterious and unfair and ask ourselves some different questions:
This type of scandal certainly causes us to examine how much we are involved in college prep and whether we need to step back and let our students take more control. With everything related to the start of college, you hear about “letting go.” You don’t have to let go of your student just yet, but you can let go of the angst inspired by this particular news story. Remember the goal: a well-prepared and well-adjusted student on a campus where they can thrive and be happy.
Let's look at parental involvement and investment in a practical, clear-eyed way.
First, most of us do want college for our children. A study from Child Trends asked parents about their expectations for academic achievement. Across all demographics, 68 percent of parents who responded expected that their student would attend post-secondary education, receiving a bachelor’s degree or higher. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, of the 2.9 million youth aged 16 to 24 who graduated from high school between January and October 2017, about 1.9 million (66.7%) were enrolled in college that autumn. Clearly there’s a correlation between parent expectations and students striving to meet those expectations.
Higher education is a goal for the majority of American families and parents are more involved than ever in the college prep process — both personally and financially. We invest time and money to ensure our students get the best shot at the college of their dreams. Here’s what that looks like.
In a 2017 survey by Capitol One, more than a third of families surveyed planned to spend over $1,000 per child on school and after-school activity fees during the academic year, and 20% expected to shell out $2,000+ per child. Three percent would be spending more than $10,000 a year.
Test prep can be a substantial expense but can pay off in huge dividends both in scholarships and merit aid awards based on test scores. Self-guided SAT/ACT study tools such as books and software typically cost $10–$50. Online study courses range from $70–$500 and instructor-led classes typically cost $75–$1,000. Private tutoring (in person or online) for the SAT or ACT runs $75–$250 per hour.
Campus tours cost anywhere from nothing (when taken virtually, on the college website) to the price of a tank of gas to an investment of thousands of dollars for airfare, lodging and meals on the road. There is a time investment as well. Such college visits, however, can be crucial to helping your student fully engage in the college search process and ultimately making an informed choice.
Pricing for private college consultants varies greatly. Cost is structured either hourly ($200/hour is the average) or arranged as a package deal with some packages costing upward of $6,000.
A traditional application to a college or university will cost $25–$75, with elite schools charging close to $100. Add to that test-taking fees (SAT, ACT, AP) from $50 per test and higher. (Students pay to take tests and pay again later to submit scores to schools.) These fees quickly add up. Note: fees can be waived for families who qualify based on financial need; your student can get help with this from their high school guidance counselor.
Finally, there's lots of your own personal time and energy — harder to measure. But this is something most of us are happy to give to our offspring. It's what parents do.
So, as you can see, offering even a minimal amount of help can mean a substantial investment. It all depends on your ability and willingness to pay.
In a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey, 75% of admissions officers from over 350 colleges said parents should be “somewhat involved” in the admissions process, stepping in only when their student asks them. Just 18% recommend parents be “very involved” (guiding their student every step of the way) with only one percent saying they should be “extremely involved.”
It’s a rare student who doesn’t need and want help navigating the maze of college prep. Applying to college takes organizational strategy and planning — so many deadlines to keep track of, decisions to make, and information to juggle. Students who get guidance are less stressed during the process and achieve better results.
Okay, we’re committed to helping but don’t want to “over-parent.” How to best direct your energy without taking over?